Not many Australian children can lay claim to a childhood with Kakadu National Park as their backyard. Actor Miranda Tapsell can, and she holds the sights and sounds of Kakadu close to her heart today, especially now she’s living a busy life that mostly keeps her in the big smoke. She takes a rare moment out of her schedule to reflect on her childhood, on doubt, and the advice she’d give her younger self.
All five-year-old Miranda wanted to be was a ballerina. “So ambitious even then in my pink tutu!” she recalls. “I was always laughing at Dad’s jokes, his hilarious stories and the ridiculous voices he put on. His performances inspired me to act.” Rarely without her tutu and ballet shoes, she subjected her family to countless performances as she honed her skills.
Fast forward to today and Miranda, acclaimed actor, screenplay writer and proud Larrakia woman, has recently celebrated the release of her latest film, Top End Wedding, which she also co-wrote. Reminiscing about her childhood in Kakadu National Park, she reflects on the twists and turns her life has taken as she ponders the advice she’d give her younger self. “You’re going to make so many plans,” she laughs. “Many won’t form the way you want. That’s OK though. Something else will always present itself and take you on another journey.”
One of these was a move from Kakadu to Darwin in her early teens, where Miranda discovered drama at high school and the thrill of telling stories onstage, spurring on her dream to act. At 16 she won the Bell Shakespeare Company regional scholarship, catching the eye of casting agents and directors as a rising talent. By the age of 18, prestigious drama school NIDA had recognised her potential and accepted her to study drama and Miranda found herself on the next leg of her journey, moving to Sydney without family or friends to lean on.
“I’d never felt more alone coming to Sydney on my own,” she remembers. “But now I’d tell my younger self that it’s the growing pain you need to have.” Her time at NIDA was a time of intense personal growth as she redefined her own ideas of her Indigenous culture through acting. “I don’t speak my mother’s native language, so I found acting was a way to express my culture in my own way,” she says. She made the stage her culture as she perfected her skills and her dreams started to become a reality.
But along with big dreams there also came big doubt – and doubters. “People will say you’re not tall enough, not white enough,” she says. “But ask yourself: Why not? Why can’t a leading lady be a short Larrakia girl from Darwin? You’ll hear ‘no’ so many times; you’ll have your ability questioned, and you’ll doubt yourself.” But armed with her mum’s advice to be brave, trust herself and give 100 per cent no matter what, Miranda persevered, and the result is the strong, successful leading lady she is today.
“Finally, I’d tell myself this: you’re not going to stop questioning yourself – even when you hit your 30s – but trust it’s all there. After all the lessons, all the hard work and sacrifice, it’s going to be OK. Don’t let anyone else define who you are. Define yourself.”